Do Metal Roofs Need Snow Guards?

When too much snow accumulates on a metal roof, there's a higher risk of avalanches as the snow and ice become too heavy to stay in place. Snow guards are an effective and simple solution to reduce avalanches and hidden dangers of shedding snow. 

What are snow guards? Why do you need one? And, how to choose the correct type for your metal roof? We'll answer all of these common questions in this article. We will look at the different snow guard styles for metal roofs and analyze the benefits and downsides of each type.

What are Snow Guards?

Avalanches can cause significant problems, including injury to persons, pets, and your property. Installing snow guards on your metal roof will reduce the risks of avalanches by offering support that keeps large quantities of snow in place while allowing small patches to break free. 

Metal Roof Avalanches

Allowing snow to remain built-up on your roof can lead to structural issues and leaks. But it's also dangerous to let the snow fall off at random. As the snow melts and refreezes on your metal roof, it starts to form ice, which is heavier and can cause more damage than just snow.

When you have a snow retention system installed, the snow guards will define how the snow builds up on your roof and how it will discard once it melts. Snow guards come in various shapes, styles, and materials, but they all serve the same purpose - prevent avalanches and control how snow falls off the roof. 

snow guards

Metal roof snow stoppers evenly distribute the weight of accumulated ice and snow, so there's less chance of avalanches. Snow guards also prevent sagging and damage to the roof structure, materials, and strength. 

You can find snow guards made of metal or polycarbonate. The best way to choose which guards would work best for your needs is to select a type of the same metal as your roof. If your roof is aluminum or copper, you'd want to use aluminum or copper snow guards. 

Snow Guard Retention Systems

Before we jump into the different styles of snow guards, let's cover the two application types - discontinuous and continuous. While both options will control how the snow collects and sheds from your roof, the differences between the two will affect which option would be better for your needs.

discontinuous and continuous snow guards

discontinuous vs continuous

The main difference between the two is the design. Discontinuous guard systems consist of individual pieces that do not connect together, while continuous systems have a solid crossbar (or more) that connects each guard for full coverage. 

Discontinuous Snow Guards

Discontinuous, also referred to as unitized, snow guards are individual pieces placed on your roof in an asymmetrical or symmetrical pattern. This style of snow guard system can consist of a single or multi-component guard.

discontinuous snow guards

These guards do not have a continuous crossbar or solid flat piece but instead work alone or with other discontinuous snow guards to bridge the empty spaces to control how the snow builds up and leaves the roof. 

Most unitized snow guards are a cleat design - small pieces - and go on areas of the roof with the most snow accumulation. However, you don't generally see these used along the entire top. Due to the smaller size, discontinuous snow guards - sometimes referred to as shoes, pads, or cleats - attach to the roof via mechanical (using screws or clamps) or adhesive. 

Continuous

Continuous snow guards, commonly referred to as snow fences, rail type snow guards, snow rail, or pip-style snow guards, consist of at least two components. 

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continuous snow guards

There are brackets screwed on or seam clamps that connect the guard to the roof. Continuous guards may have one or more cross-members - long pieces of material that act as a blockage for snow.

A continuous guard system consists of a single or multiple rows of guards laid in a horizontal lateral pattern similar to a fence. These guards go close to or at the edge of the roof's eave. 

Types of Snow Guards

Snow guards come in three primary types that may vary slightly in style and performance by the manufacturer. 

Clip Style

The first style is clip style, which is typically what a person refers to when talking about snow guards. Other names include snow pads, snow cleats, snow jacks, snowbirds, snow dogs, and various other synonyms. 

Clip Style

These individual guards connect to the flat parts of the roof in a pattern, although some models may clamp to seams. 

You can install clip-style snow guards onto metal standing seam panels, shingles, or fastened metal panels. Attaching these pieces to the roof can happen through a liquid adhesive, tape, or screws. Other types clamp to the seams of standing seam roofs.

Clip-style snow guards come in two styles - small or large profile. Small profile guards have a small face (pad area) less than four square inches. You have to use more of these to see the same difference as you'd get using large profiles. These guards wouldn't be ideal for heavy snow or high pitches.

The pad face of large profile guards is bigger than four inches, allowing them to provide more of a barrier against the snow, similar to a snow fence. The largest sizes can have up to a 15" face. You install these in a continuous or unitized (slightly staggered) pattern 12" above the eave edge. But due to their larger size, they do stand out on your roof.

Pros

  • Ideal for roofs with little snow weight
  • Allows you to get protection in specific places without covering the whole roof
  • Large or small sizes
  • Three methods of application

CONs

  • Can't withstand heavy snows
  • It might look awkward with some roofs

Bar Style

The second type of snow guard is bar-style. This type of metal roof snow bars consists of a continuous rectangular metal bar running horizontally along the roof to block ice and snow. 

Bar Style snow guard

This style gives your roof a streamlined modern aesthetic, allowing you to enjoy a cleaner look. Most roofs only need one row of guards to get enough protection. But your roof's pitch, the length between the peak and the eave, and the amount of snow your area gets may cause you to need multiple rows.

The bar attaches to brackets connected to the roof (or decking) mechanically using screws or clamped to the seams. This style cannot accommodate adhesive applications, as the weight would make the glue fail.

Pros

  • The continuous layout gives complete protection
  • One layer may be enough
  • Clean, modern look

CONs

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  • It can't be applied using adhesive
  • May require multiple rows depend on roofline and pitch

Fence Style

The third option is fence-style guards, which are similar to bar-style. However, these guards have two (or more) tubes stacked vertical, resembling a split rail fence. 

Fence style snow guards

This option is excellent for custom homes or when you want something other than a bar guard. You can mount these guards to the roof using clamps or bolts. 

The best thing about fence-style snow guards is their extreme strength, making them ideal for locations that receive heavy amounts of snow. These guards can handle more than 75 pounds per square foot of weight from snow. 

Pros

  • Can withstand heavyweights
  • Continuous design plus multiple crossbars offer more support and barrier
  • Unique split rail design

CONs

  • Very noticeable
  • May add significant weight to your roof

Tips for Choosing the Suitable Snow Guard

When shopping for snow guards, consider these factors to help you narrow down the decision on which one is best for your needs. 

Snow Guard Materials

A crucial consideration of snow guards is the type of material. You want to be sure the snow rails have the same lifespan as your metal roof to get lifetime protection. Snow retention systems should never be any polycarbonate (plastic). The best choices will be ones made of non-corrosive metals. 

You'll also need to consider the guard material's compatibility with the roofing materials. For roofs that are zinc or coated steel, you'd need aluminum material with stainless hardware. With copper roofs, you'll need stainless or brass alloy. Stainless steel roofs do well with stainless or anodized aluminum.

Types of Paint/Powder Coat

Another thing to consider is the type of powder coating or paint of the guards. It's crucial to ensure the materials used to create the guard's color match your roof's rate of chalking or fading. Doing so ensures your snow guards don't lose color faster than your roof, resulting in unattractive mismatching of colors.

Do you need to use adhesives or glues?

Most roofing contractors will advise against installing snow guards with adhesives or glue, as this method is not as reliable as clamps. Clip-style guards in a discontinuous pattern can withstand adhesive grips.

Types of Fasteners

When debating mechanical fasteners, the preferred choice will depend on your roof design. Roofs with face-fasteners need face-fastened guard attachments. Standing seam roofs need clamp-to-seam attachments of the same metal as the roof.

FAQs

Here are a few answers to some frequently asked questions people have about using snow guards on metal roofs. 

Q: Are snow guards really necessary?

A: Snow guards are essential for metal roofs in locations that experience regular snowfall. Not only will these guards protect your home and property from the dangers of falling snow, but they will also reduce seasonal damage.

Q: How much do snow guards cost?

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A: Multiple factors will affect the final cost of your snow guards. Pad face snow guards run between $8 to $13 apiece, while you may pay $40 a foot for fence-style or $20 to $30 for bar-style.

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